Thursday, July 25, 2013

Roller coasters, distant thunder...and what I can control

My favorite way to write is outside in the sun with a tablet and pencil in hand. The current forecast is “widespread thunderstorms” and while I see sun, there is distant thunder. It feels all too familiar.

Times have been tough lately in the place I live…my home and my head. It looks sunny, but in the background there is rumbling.

If you have been tracking with me for any time, you are aware of a financial struggle due to my being the plaintiff in litigation. It has been a long walk through judgment/appeal/judgment/extension/ad nauseum.
I love amusement park roller coasters…this roller coaster, not so much.

Even on days when it doesn’t dominate my thinking (there have been a few),even when I am doing two jobs I love – teaching and writing- there is the rumbling of the toll three years of financial/judicial turmoil has taken.

You probably understand. Maybe it hasn’t been litigation. But there is something that has whipped you up and down, through a corkscrew, upside down at 65 mph.
Sometimes I can, for the most part, ignore the rumbling.
Other times it is loud, gets in my head and bounces around like a pinball until I can’t control the flappers anymore and just give up for the moment or the day.
Do you understand?

A new Senior Pastor has been chosen for my church. Eric Park is respected by colleagues, loved by former parishioners. Eric and his wife Tara are gifted musicians who donate all money from CD sales to overseas ministries. Eric is, by all accounts, a dynamic leader who is devoted to sharing the Savior he loves with a hurting world.  We are blessed to join in ministry with Eric and Tara.

But there is rumbling. Certainly the Bishop hears it. Perhaps the Parks hear as well.
It isn’t personal.
We simply don’t want a new Senior Pastor.  
You see, we prayed and believed for a miracle healing. We were certain the cancer would disappear and our beloved one would return to full health. He fought hard, we prayed diligently.
Surely God would reward us with a miracle.

On May 26, a miracle happened. The Rev Dr. J. David Panther met Jesus and received the crown of eternal life.
It was not the miracle we requested. A rumbling began…and continues.

Sometimes it is a distant, annoying reminder. Other times, it is directly overhead…rolling, pounding, causing terrifying lightning and buckets of tears. The rumbling says we should give up because our ministry is over. It says we did not pray correctly or often enough. It says our congregation will dwindle and we will have no control over things of this world.
It is partially right.

Do you understand?
Have you prayed and believed and done all you know how to do, only to have the situation turn out to be exactly the opposite?
Have you heard the rumbling that says you have failed, that mocks you for trying, that says you should give up and that you have no control over what happens in life?

Everything the rumbling says to me, to you, to a church congregation is wrong, is a lie straight from hell, except this one thing:
We have almost no control.

Read it again…We have almost no control.

How many times have you taken this test?
Yeah, me too.
How many times have you thought you finally passed?
Yeah, me too.

From my first breath until the day I meet Jesus, I truly have control over only one thing in this entire world.
Same for you.

I get to choose how I respond to a financial roller coaster, to circumstances I wouldn’t choose but can’t avoid, to a friend’s death, to an amazing pastor gone too soon.
I get to choose.

Certainly, there are times when the rumbling is part of a storm presenting imminent danger.
More often, however, it is a distraction that can cause unfounded fear and a desire to hide from life.

I know the difference. So do you.
I know what to do when lightning, thunder, and rain are on top of me. I know where to take shelter, how to protect myself and my loved ones.

But the distant rumbling is insidious. It draws my attention from the tasks at hand, sprinkling doubt, creating conflict, making problems seem much bigger than necessary.  It will do that every time I pay attention, for as long as I allow.

But I get to choose.
So do you.

Some days are harder than others…one hour, one rumbling at a time.

Maybe we can help each other…will you join me?

We will talk again soon.


Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Storms, Jana and Tori, and what I forget...

I don’t generally stand outside staring at the sky. But last night I did. Thunderstorms had already brought flooding south of my town, and they were moving in quickly.

My dear friend Jana recently shared that since her husband passed in May, she dislikes rainy days a great deal. She wants sun and warmth and light.

My Tori doesn’t like storms either, so I bought her a Thundershirt. It arrived yesterday, and while this blog does not endorse dog products, I must say she was significantly calmer with it on.  

I thought about Jana and Tori as I stood watching the clouds move and change shape, listening to the wind. My bare feet were walking on dry grass, but it wouldn’t be that way for long.

Life has been challenging for me lately. How about for you? Are you staring down a difficult challenge? I watched the clouds and noticed how the formations moved, the darkness was in front of me, then at my back. Lightning coming from every direction, then a few moments later, a break in the clouds.

The lower clouds were dark and shifting, but the upper level clouds remained the same. Much lighter, puffier, less menacing.

I watched for several minutes, thinking about how life mimics weather patterns. Forty miles south of my town, heavy rain was causing flash floods. The winds were very strong in my area, the sky was dark, Tori acted like a big storm was imminent. Then it seemed to pass.

This morning the sun came up right on time. There are branches in my yard, and I watch reports of flood damage, but the day was pleasant and seemed to belie the forecast of storms returning.  
Alas, they are back – stronger than last night. More rain, fierce lightning, thunder that seems to be right on top of us.

Life is like that sometimes, isn’t it? I watch things shift, see great darkness then patches of light, feel the wind and, like Tori, get scared of what seems to be coming.

The storm starts and I wish I had a Thundershirt.  The atmosphere changes in what seems like a very negative way. I can't predict or control when it will start and stop, or how fierce it will be. Suddenly I am consumed with trepidation and I forget so much of what I know.

How about you? When you are standing against a crashing wave of pain or sadness, when it feels like you are on sand that is shifting so fast you can’t keep your balance, when the rain comes hard in your face, do you sometimes forget you have lived through storms before?

I forget that, as bad as the thunder and lightning is, it doesn’t last forever.

I forget that rain serves a purpose, even when it is inconvenient or unwanted.

I forget that, even if I stand in the yard through a storm, my odds of being struck by lightning this year are 1 in 700,000.

I have lived through thunderstorms and floods. Some have caused massive amounts of damage, tangible or emotional.  I know “this too shall pass”… but sometimes I forget.

Tori seems to know what to do better than I do. She runs to my side, lets me put on her new shirt, then relaxes. She never forgets where to go in a storm.

I can learn from Tori. I forget that the One I serve and love, the One who loves me, the One who calmed storms while He walked this earth, is always watching, is still in charge, is still able to hold up His hand and make it stop…or hold my hand through it.

I forget that there is always an upper story, a place in the atmosphere that is steady and calm…and still will be, once this lower storm passes.

I forget to run to the safe place. I battle on my own, try to make the rain stop, try to stack sandbags against impending floods…I forget all that does is make me tired and frustrated.

How about you?

Do shake, fret, find yourself overwhelmed?

Or maybe you devise a plan, throw up the barriers, board the windows…do anything necessary to either stop the storm or run from it?

Does it work well? Didn’t think so…

Jana is right – sun, warmth, light are best. I would always choose that.

But we don’t get to pick the weather, do we? Not in our world, not in our life.
All we ever get to choose is how we walk through it, and where we keep our focus.  

I am determined to learn how to stop fussing, stop fighting, stop planning my getaway. I am committed to remembering, and to looking for the One who will either stop the storm or guide me through.
Will you join me?

Let’s talk again soon…right now I have to step outside and look at the rainbow